This page covers the basics of stimulants, stimulant use disorder, and treatments that might work for you.
Stimulants cause the brain to release chemicals that speed up heart rate, boost energy, and produce strong feelings of pleasure and excitement. Stimulants include cocaine, methamphetamine, MDMA (“ecstasy”), and some prescription medications (e.g., Adderall, Ritalin). Learn more about stimulants here.
Taking large doses of stimulants or using them for a long time can also lead to serious mental health problems such as paranoia, anxiety, and psychosis. It can also lead to an overdose (often called “overamping”) that can involve very high body heat/heat stroke, heart failure, seizure, or stroke.
A stimulant overdose can be fatal. Learn more about stimulant overdose here.
Stimulant use disorder is a condition where someone continues to use stimulants even when that drug use causes serious problems. Often, a person may try many times to stop but cannot. Like other substance use disorders, stimulant use disorder affects a person’s body, mind, and social connections. If someone has these symptoms, they may be diagnosed with stimulant use disorder:
- Increased tolerance (needing more drug to get the same effect)
- Withdrawal symptoms when use stops
- Serious health problems from using (e.g., heart problems, abscesses, tooth loss)
- Strong craving or urge to use stimulants
- Spending large amounts of time thinking about, finding, and using stimulants
- Using more than planned
- Desire and attempts to stop, but with no success
- Problems with friends, loved ones, home, school, or work
- Using drugs in high-risk situations
- Giving up other activities because of use
There are several treatment approaches that can help people quit or cut back on their stimulant use. Treatment happens in many places, such as: a medical clinic, a mental health program, or inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment programs.
Different places offer different treatment approaches. Be sure to ask what treatments are available at when you choose where to great treatment.
Counseling and behavior change treatments
Counseling and other treatments that focus on behavior are currently the most effective treatments. These include:
- Contingency management
- Motivational interviewing
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Community reinforcement approach
In Contingency Management a person gets small rewards for reaching goals. For example, a person might get a small gift card for showing up for a clinic visit or get a chance to win a bigger prize for a urine drug test that shows no recent drug use. Research shows that contingency management is one of the most effective treatments for stimulant use disorder (Ronsley et al., 2020).
In Motivational Interviewing, a counselor helps a person identify changes they might want to make and the motivation and fears they have about that change. Working together, they explore why a person uses stimulants, why they might want to change (or why they’re unsure), and how a person might make changes successfully.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helps identify patterns of thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. People learn skills to change unhelpful patterns, cope with cravings, or problem solve “high risk” situations to use.
Community Reinforcement Approach helps increase positive activities that compete with drug use. Similar to CBT, it helps a person build skills to cope, problem solve, and improve relationships.
Mental health counseling can help with issues such as depression, anxiety, trauma, and other issues that are often seen with stimulant use. Learn more about different types of counseling here.
Medications for stimulant use disorder
There are still no FDA-approved medications to treat stimulant use disorder. There is some evidence, however, that some mental health medications can be helpful for some people. These medications may not be right or helpful for everyone, so talk to your health care provider.
Withdrawal management (“detox”)
Some people need a structured break from stimulants for a few days to get through early withdrawal. While this can help the brain and body start to work better, detox is not considered “treatment.” Most people will need ongoing help to cope with cravings and learn new behaviors
Other approaches to help people
Some people use stimulants to help them manage other areas of their life. Addressing those challenges or needs could help reduce stimulant use. For example, someone may want help with:
- Connecting with others/finding community
- 12-step support (e.g., Crystal Meth Anonymous)
- Health issues
There is also some evidence that exercise can help reduce stimulant use and improve health.
Treatment of Stimulant Use Disorders, a guide from SAMHSA
Recovery Research Institute has info about recovery from many substances, including stimulants
Cracks in the ice, an Australian website with information on methamphetamine
Treatment of Stimulant Use Disorder: A Systematic Review of Reviews, Ronsley et al 2020